Plan-B Theatre enlists Utah politicians to celebrate banned books

Published May 2, 2014 3:16 pm
Stage • "And the Banned Played On" to feature children's classics.
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The latest edition of Plan-B Theatre's "And the Banned Played On" will celebrate classic children's literature, the stories you and I grew up on, all of which have sparked calls for censorship in schools or libraries across the country in the past two decades.

Think "The Giving Tree." (Banned in Colorado in 1988 because it was "sexist" and "criminalized the foresting agency.") Think "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." (Banned in Colorado in 1988 because it espoused a "poor philosophy of life.") Think "James and the Giant Peach." (Banned in Texas in 1999 because of the use of the word "ass.") Think "Green Eggs and Ham."(Banned in California as recently as 1991 because of "homosexual seduction.")

Think "Charlotte's Web" or "Winnie-the-Pooh." (Banned in various states in 2006 because talking animals are "an insult to God.") Think "Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl." (Banned in Virginia in 2010 because of its "sexual conduct and homosexual themes.")

"With all the issues there are in the world, why would you have a problem with the fact that a pig speaks in 'Charlotte's Web' or in 'Winnie-the-Pooh'?" asks Jerry Rapier, producing director of Plan-B Theatre Company.

"Banned," pitched as an event celebrating free speech, draws upon a list of censored children's classics published on Buzzfeed in 2013, highlighting bans across the country in the past two decades. The event will feature X-96 Radio hosts Bill Allred, Kerry Jackson and Gina Barberi as emcees, as well as readers ranging from Salt Lake City and County mayors Ralph Becker and Ben McAdams, Salt Lake City Councilman Stan Penfold, state Sen. Jim Dabakis, state Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck and actor Anne Cullimore Decker.

"We like to have people out of context," Rapier says. "Not too many people have heard Ralph Becker read 'The Giving Tree' or heard Ben McAdams read from 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' or Jim Dabakis read from 'James and the Giant Peach.' And who doesn't want to see Anne Decker read 'Green Eggs and Ham'? I mean, really. It gives people a chance to see them in another life."

At "Banned," any donations beyond ticket fees will help pay for a new leg of the company's anti-bullying educational tour, Matthew Ivan Bennet's "Different = Amazing." But the event also serves as a chance to introduce the company's upcoming season of non-censored works by Bennett and five other Utah playwrights.

Some of the fun of the readings is trying to figure out what possibly could have led to the ban. Sometimes, the banners might not have even read the book. In one case, banners in Texas confused picture-book author Bill Martin Jr. of "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?" with philosopher Bill Martin of "Ethical Marxism."

In some cases, even the progressive patrons likely to come to the event might agree, for example, to the idea of avoiding reading the word "ass" to young children.

"I grew up in a town of 700 people," says Rapier, explaining why children's literature matters so much to him and the theater company. "The library was open a couple of afternoons a week. This was before the Internet, before cable television, when living in a rural area truly was isolation. I literally read every book in that library. They were my friends."


facebook.com/ellen.weist 'And the Banned Played On'

Plan-B Theatre Company presents an evening of readings of classic children's books to celebrate free speech.

When • Saturday, May 3, 8 p.m.

Where • Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center's Jeanné Wagner Theatre, 138 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City

Tickets • $25 ($10 students) at 801-355-2787 or planbtheatre.org.



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